He is working on big stuff, like changes in the habits of health-care workers and patients that will add years to people’s lives.
And he is sweating smaller stuff, like helping greeting-card employees come up with a hit for the holiday season.
One health-care assignment involved Pfizer. Sales of the pharmaceutical giant’s Nicorette pill and patch to help people quit smoking were flat.
Ogilvie’s firm, Peer Insight, helped the company build loyalty among customers by setting up a phone-based coaching service for users of the drug. The coaches helped people establish new habits for dealing with stress, such as eating a carrot or carrying on a conversation with a colleague — and using Nicorette — instead of lighting up.
He produced similar results for Hallmark, the greeting-card company. A group of employees had stopped participating in an interoffice contest designed to bring new ideas to market because they were getting negative feedback on their proposals. In other words, they were losing.
Ogilvie’s team had to figure out a way to keep everyone involved. Their answer was to have more-frequent, shorter contests that let more people win, boosting positive feedback, the trigger for habit formation.
Ogilvie, 54, is an interesting guy who has been circulating in Washington’s entrepreneur scene for years, with stops at the Kaiser Associates consulting firm (founded by Michael Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts) and at a start-up focusing on mail lockboxes called Brivo Systems, from which he cashed out about 10 years ago.
What I learned from my two-hour interview with the practicing Buddhist is his belief in the ability of habit to change people’s lives for the better. He sprinkles his e-mails with sayings such as this one from Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh:
“Habit energy is the most powerful force in the universe.”
Ogilvie’s 14-person consulting firm, Peer Insight, grosses a couple million dollars a year from projects that last several months and range from $100,000 to $400,000 a pop. The clients are generally big corporations such as Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Computer Sciences, Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark, and organizations such as AARP and the Good Samaritan Society.
Much of the work involves training a client’s employees how to treat customers. A two-day workshop that helps middle managers might cost $30,000.
Ogilvie earns a healthy income that I am pretty sure ranges from the low- to mid-six figures. For that, he works about 55 hours a week at his Capitol Hill offices on Pennsylvania Avenue SE.
“When you want to create a new customer experience, that’s where we come in,” he said. “The thing we found we are good at is introducing new services that help develop really sustainable habits.”